Rand Paul is attempting to sell the Republican Party to the students of Howard University Wednesday, making his first visit to a historically black university as part of an effort to reach out to youth and minority voters.Acknowledging that the Republican Party has struggled to attract black voters, Paul’s speech attempts to convince his young, predominantly black audience, that the Republican Party’s free-market economic policies have more to offer than federal assistance offered by Democrats.
“The Democrats promised equalizing outcomes through unlimited federal assistance while Republicans offered something that seemed less tangible-the promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets,” Paul said. “Now Republicans face a daunting task. Several generations of black voters have never voted Republican and are not very open to even considering the option.”
“The Democrat promise is tangible and puts food on the table, but too often doesn’t lead to jobs or meaningful success,” he continued, adding later, “I would argue that the objective evidence shows that big government is not a friend to African Americans.”
Paul’s speech focuses largely on the history of African Americans in the Republican Party during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. He also touches on school choice and criminal justice reform, two issues where Paul believes he can make inroads with youth and minority voters.
Paul’s appearance at Howard University is the first by a national Republican figure in nearly two decades, putting into practice some of the Republican National Committee’s recommendations for increased minority outreach. By engaging young black voters with a message specifically tailored to them, Paul sets himself up as a leader of the party’s rebranding effort and bolsters his credentials as a coalition-builder in advance of a potential 2016 presidential run.
Paul’s message — and particularly his claim that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights — is unlikely to carry much weight with black voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2008 and 2012.
But as Paul points out, Republicans will never be able to make any inroads with African Americans unless they try.
“I can recite books that have been written, or I can plunge into the arena and stumble and maybe fall but at least I will have striven,” Paul said. “My hope is that you will hear me out, that you will see me for who I am, not the caricature sometimes presented by political opponents.”
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